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Learning how to make perfect pizza dough

Learning how to make perfect pizza dough

I love to cook and for the most part I manage to get by and do a decent job.  I have been cooking since I was a teenager, but I never had any formal culinary training.  But I have been fortunate to be surrounded by some really good chefs and cooks, and while studying nutrition I took some courses that taught simple, basic cooking skills.

Over the years, my passion for food – both cooking and eating – have fueled my desire to learn more, but also has led me to seek out a way to share the knowledge I accumulate.  Today I am sharing with you my most recent learning experience – how to make perfect pizza dough.

NOTE:  This post may include affiliate links which means that if you click through and purchase, I do receive some small financial benefit which helps me to continue to provide you with free content.    

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I love to learn

A little more background here about me which led me to start my blog and share recipes and information with the world.  Of course, it begins with my enjoyment for food, cooking, eating and nutrition.  But also, this past year I discovered that “Learner” is actually my #1 strength on the CliftonStrengths assessment.  It combines with my other strengths in a way which totally explains why I receive so much enjoyment learning about food and healthy living, writing posts about these topics and creating new recipes.  Tapping into the things that I am really good at and finding a way to maximize them is a process which I am still working towards every day.

I truly seek out learning experiences and whenever given the opportunity to learn something new I will always jump at it.  I started looking a while back for some cooking classes that would be fun, but also expose me to a type of food or type of cuisine that I didn’t know very well.  In my case, it’s not just for fun, but it is also research into a topic which I hopefully will eventually share on the blog.

Buda Bakes logoBaking with Buda Bakes

At some point after arriving in Lima, Peru to live last year, I stumbled on the facebook page Buda Bakes, run by Amelia Villagomez.  Buda Bakes offers a variety of baking classes every month as well as offering her artisanal baked goods for sale at various spots around town and by special order.  After much discussion on which class to take, my friends and I settled on taking a focaccia and pizza class.

Now to be completely honest, baking is not really my thing, but I love eating pizza and bread, so I thought that a pizza class might inspire me to take on something that’s a little more difficult for me.

Baking in my opinion is one of the hardest forms of cooking to learn.  It requires patience – to let the dough ferment properly, to weigh the ingredients – and a certain level of precision.  Patience is not exactly my strong suit so it’s just never been a form of cooking I truly enjoy.  But I am willing to give it a shot and I know that for sure it will be a fun experience with my friends.

Class day starts with focaccia

The day for the class finally arrived.  The class is hosted in Amelia’s apartment which means the groups are kept pretty small.  And our class was just the four of us plus one additional girl.  Amelia made the class really fun and her recipes and techniques were really good.

Kneading the focaccia

We started off the class making focaccia.  Amelia had all the ingredients measured out for us, so all we began by mixing the liquid into the dry and begin to knead. I found this dough way more challenging to handle than the pizza dough.  It starts off very sticky and requires a lot of kneading.  The kneading needs to be fast using the full weight of your body put into it in order to get it to the consistency you want.  As you knead the dough, it begins to become less sticky and begins to form a dough ball.

My friend, Monica nailed hers, but mine took much longer and eventually Armelia had to give me some assistance.   She explained that often people often have the tendency to add more flour when the dough is sticky.  Which in the long run changes the consistency of the dough which of course affects the texture of your cooked dough.  The trick is actually just to keep kneading and allow the gluten in the flour to do its thing.

Fermenting and baking the focaccia

After we made the focaccia, it needed to ferment for several hours.  During the fermentation time the yeast in the dough activates and as it eats the sugar in the flour it releases carbon dioxide which makes the bread “rise” increase in size. Once the focaccia is fermented, it gets topped with a bit of olive oil and whatever toppings you want.  Then it goes into the hot oven to bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.


Learning to make perfect pizza dough

While the focaccia was fermenting, we started working on pizza.  The first step in the pizza class was to work with a dough ball she made ahead of time and allowed to ferment.  At this point the dough just needs to be stretched out into a pizza round.  You do this by pulling out on the dough while rotating it in your hands.  You can even place it over your fists and pull a bit to get the dough to stretch out.  Once the dough reached the right shape, we brushed a bit of pizza sauce on top and then she cooked it for us.

Measuring the ingredients

While our pizza crusts were cooking we made the dough from scratch.  To measure out the ingredients for the pizza dough we followed the recipe she gave us and weighed each ingredient.  This step is where it requires pretty good precision.  This precision is necessary because at the heart, baking is a chemical reaction and too much of anyone ingredient can affect the texture or flavor of the dough. After measuring the ingredients, we also worked with the dough to knead it to the right consistency. Next, we shaped it into a dough ball where it would be set aside to ferment for few hours.

Topping and eating our pizza

My friends with their finished pizzas

After our first dough was cooked, we now got the chance to make our own pizza.  Most of us were vegetarian and so she provided us with cheese and lots of veggies to load up on our pizza.  I went with a bit of pesto and more tomato sauce on the bottom which I topped with some fresh cherry tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and finished it off with fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese.  Then each pizza went back into the oven to cook.

Eating the pizza may have been the highlight of the class because it was super delicious.  Making fresh dough creates a much better tasting and fresher pizza than buying a store-bought crust or even dough.  Plus knowing I had made the entire thing with my own two hands made it even more enjoyable.

Cooking your perfect pizza crust

Buda Bakes has a special oven to cook the pizza.  Now I would imagine that most of you (like me) don’t have your own “special” pizza oven.  So how can you achieve an excellent crust with your regular home oven?  Amelia said the best thing to do when cooking your pizza at home is to set the temperature on the highest setting possible.  She also suggests cooking the pizza on a clay tile or pizza stone.  This makes the bottom of the crusts crispier than using a regular pan.  The trick here is to place the stone or tile in the oven to heat up before putting your pizza dough on it to cook.

Using the Buda Bakes recipe, the crust is actually cooked two different times.  It’s cooked the first time for 8-10 minutes and should be a pale golden color when it comes out.  This first cooking is done to set the crust.  I believe that this step, makes for a crispier dough than if you cook your pizza with the dough completely raw and covered in toppings.  After you cover the pizza crust with your favorite toppings, the pizza goes back in the oven to cook again.  This time it cooks for 2-4 minutes, just long enough to heat the toppings, melt the cheese and brown up a bit.

My beautiful and delicious pizza ready to eat.

Time saving strategies for making your own dough

So, the fermentation time is either overnight in the refrigerator or four hours at room temperature.  Which means is that from start to finish it takes probably more than 5 hours from starting the fresh dough to getting pizza on the table to actually eat.  Who has that kind of time during the week to prepare dinner?

What I would suggest doing is to make up a batch of dough on a weekend and stretch out all the pizza crusts and do the first cook time with them.  Then you can put them in the freezer and pull out as needed.  Make them personal size as they are easier to store in the freezer, but also that way everyone can add their own toppings and create a pizza they truly enjoy.

Recipe ingredients in bowlPizza Dough Recipe

The credit for this delicious pizza dough goes to Amelia at Buda Bakes.  One recipe makes one large pizzas or two smaller individual pizzas.

The ingredients

  • Flour          309 grams
  • Water         182 grams
  • Yeast, dry      3 grams
  • Salt                 3 grams

The timing

Fermentation:  4 hours outside refrigeration or 5-18 hours under refrigeration

Bake with sauce:  8-10 minutes 260 C/500 F

Bake with toppings:  2-4 minutes 220 C/425 F

The method

Weigh all your ingredients into a bowl.  Begin to mix the ingredients together with your hands.  Once the dough begins to combine, transfer the mixture from the bowl to a clean, dry and lightly floured surface.  Begin to knead the dough with the heel portion of your hand.  The dough will begin to combine and form a smooth surface.  The dough is fully combined when you can stretch a piece of it and it creates a spot you can see through without the dough tearing.

When it is mixed, roll it into a ball and set it aside for the fermentation time indicated above.  When the dough is done fermenting, lightly flour a clean surface.  Stretch out the dough by turning it in your hand and pulling it outwards.  When it reaches your desired thickness, place it on the pizza paddle and lightly brush with tomato sauce.

Place the pizza on a hot pizza stone or tile and cook 8-10 minutes or until lightly, golden brown.

At this point, if you want to freeze the dough, allow it to completely cool and them wrap up well and place in the freezer.  If you want to cook and eat, simply add your favorite toppings and cook in a hot oven on a hot stone or tile for an additional 3-5 minutes.  Crust and cheese should be lightly brown and toppings hot.

Recipe Notes

  • If you don’t have that high of a setting on your oven, simply set the temperature at the highest possible heat.  You may need to extend the cooking time of the pizza.
  • Amelia used fresh yeast, but I have adjusted the recipe per instructions with dry yeast as I suspect that is more accessible for most of you.
  • If you wish to make whole wheat pizza dough that will have just a bit more fiber, you need to adjust the recipe just a bit.  The whole wheat flour absorbs much more water than white flour.  Whole wheat flour (216 grams), White flour (93 grams), Water (200 grams).  

Tools for the best pizza

Making really good pizza does actually require investing in a few items that will make the process easier and create the BEST pizza possible.  You can follow the links for each item to see an example of what I am talking about.  However, I do not necessarily recommend the particular brand in the link.

Essential tools

Baking stone
This is really an essential piece of equipment needed to create a fantastic tasting pizza.  It’s what gives the bottom of the crust that chewy, crunchy texture.

Pizza paddle
A pizza paddle may seem unnecessary, but if want to get that perfect crust it’s important to place the baking stone in the oven and get it really good and hot before you place the pizza on top.  The paddle will help you transfer the pizza from your workspace to the stone.

Kitchen Scale
The last item that I consider to be essential for this recipe.  The only way to ensure the correct measurement of ingredients is by weighing them.  When using measuring cups it is simply too easy to add too much or not enough of a particular ingredient.  I recommend choosing a scale that has both metric and imperial forms of measurement to give you more versatility.

Optional tools

Bowl and bench scraper
You want to make sure that ALL your ingredients for the crust make it into the final product.  This tool helps you to scrape the bowl.  Use the bench scraper with the straight edge on the table to help you to clean up a bit more quickly.  Just use it to scrape all the stuck dough from the table into a bowl.

Kitchen scissors
Ok, this may be one of the handiest tricks I learned in the class with Amelia.  Instead of cutting the pizza with a knife or pizza cutter which often doesn’t always cut the crust all the way through, you can use a good pair of kitchen scissors to cut the pizza.  Fast and much easier.

Various vegetable toppings, pesto and tomato sauceMy Favorite Plant-based Pizza toppings

Mozzarella cheese (fresh is definitely better)
Parmesan cheese
Pesto or fresh basil
Sliced cherry tomatoes
Sliced bell peppers
Roasted eggplant
Sliced artichokes
Any other vegetable you enjoy on your pizza!!!



My Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that making fresh pizza dough is time consuming and maybe even challenging for some of us.  But in the end, I think it is totally worth it.  It may take a few tries to get the method down but once you do, it really isn’t all that hard.  And if you make a few dough balls ahead, stretch out and cook the crusts and then freeze them, you can get pizza on the table during the week in a flash.

Thanks so much to Amelia at Buda Bakes for a truly memorable day and experience for me and my friends.  If you are ever in Lima, Peru and looking for something to do, this is an experience you don’t want to miss.  She even sent us home with our fresh baked focaccia and a pizza crust to make for later!!!

Bread in a bag for me to take home


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